Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce
An agreement or order is only as good as the ability to enforce it. In a Florida divorce, parties may enter a settlement agreement. Both parties usually intend to honor the terms of the agreement and make certain promises in good faith reliance on the other party's compliance with the agreement. When a party does not uphold his or her part of the contract, the court must intervene to force compliance in most cases.
As is common in many cases in which the parties share title to debt or assets acquired during a marriage, most settlement agreements require that the party who is keeping an asset refinance so as to remove the other spouse from any liability associated with the asset. In the case Williams v. Williams, 4D17-2834 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018), the parties entered a marital settlement agreement which required that the former wife refinance the marital home by a certain date. The former wife did not refinance and the former husband was required to file a motion for enforcement.
The trial court made a finding that the former wife had not attempted to refinance by the deadline agreed-to. Therefore, it found the former wife had breached the terms of the contract, but declined to enforce the agreement, holding "it did not have the authority to compel Appellee's performance— 'as equitable distribution, the law is clear that that's not enforceable by contempt'—and the motion to enforce was denied."
The former husband appealed, arguing it was error for the trial court to decline to enforce the settlement agreement. The appellate court agreed with the former husband and distinguished between enforcing payments due under an agreement and an act required by an agreement. While it is true a court cannot hold a party in contempt for failing to pay sums due under an equitable distribution scheme (since these payments are enforceable as a creditor-debtor situation), a court can hold a party in contempt for failing to perform an act (since the act itself is not payment of a debt or any money).
The trial court was therefore instructed to hold a hearing to determine if the former wife's failure to refinance was voluntary or willful - if it was, the court was required to take action to enforce the agreement. Schedule a consultation with a Miami divorce lawyer to determine your rights and obligations under your marital settlement agreement.